Martin George, chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber, during his video message to the Prime Minister on Wednesday 14 October 2020.

Tobago business interests are using the World Health Organization’s call to end COVID-19 related lockdowns as leverage to request Government reopen Tobago for business.

On October 12, the World Health Organization (WHO) said countries should stop using lockdown as a primary COVID-19 control measure because it “is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”

On October 14, in a video message to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, the Tobago Business Chamber requested an end to the island’s lockdown.

It’s chairman Martin George said the island’s relatively small size of 116 sq miles is the ideal place to test tourism-related COVID-19 policies and procedures.

He said the chamber applauded the Government’s existing efforts to address the crisis.

“However,” he said,” we are suggesting the Government reopen Tobago for business generally. It can be used as a pilot project for Trinidad and Tobago…We can see how reopening business in a limited controlled space, an island of 116 square miles…And then we can seek to apply it to Trinidad and Tobago.”

He said times are hard on the island, and reopening it can help the economy, and “reopening can give a boost and fillip to economic recovery,” George said.

Vice President of the Crown Point Business Association Shirley Cooke said the association had called on the Government months ago to reopen the island. The association wants pools and businesses to reopen at 50 per cent capacity.

“I am urging the prime minister, as he looks at the next phase of reopening, to really consider that the economic fallout would also be dangerous for the country…It is time that we get some level of business activity in the businesses,” the businesswoman told Guardian Media.

According to statistics from the Tobago House of Assembly’s Finance and Enterprise Secretary Joel Jack, approximately 6,000 persons working in the tourism industry have lost their jobs. He said tourism accounts for 13 per cent of the island’s Gross Domestic Product.

The job loss occurred because hotels closed in March when the international borders closed and subsequently the domestic border remained open for essential services. Many workers were retrenched and only a skeleton staff remained.

The Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) reported that businesses are faced with mounting debts and cannot afford to pay their bills.

Last Saturday (October 10), Dr Rowley reopened the Buccoo Reef Marine Park.

On October 12, the Tobago House of Assembly reminded the public the beaches remain closed in keeping with the Public Health Ordinance regulation.